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"Quite right, my girl: I wish it had been anywhere else rather than there; but as things are so bad, and there seems to be no other opening for you, I am afraid you must go."
Annie was delighted at the prospect, and she went to bed in high spirits, resolved to lose no time in the morning before applying for the vacant post.
She had little difficulty in seeing the housekeeper; but to her dismay she heard that Sarah West had been about it the previous evening.
"I have not given her a positive answer yet," said the portly housekeeper, as she carelessly jingled her large bunch of keys; "so if I don't settle with her you can call again."
Annie went home sadly dispirited. "If mother had only let me go as soon as I heard of it, I should have had the first chance; but Sarah will be sure to get it now! Father is out of work, too, and would have been so glad if I could have got a place!" And she could not help shedding a few tears as she walked through the field-path on her way home.
"I do so wish I could get the place, mother," she said, as she related the result of her errand, and then she fell into a meditative silence. She was thinking of a text she had learned the previous Sunday: "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." This had been explained by her teacher, and Annie thought that she might now bring it to a practical use.
"Mother, it wouldn't be wrong to pray to God, and ask him to let me get the place, would it?" said Annie, after thinking over several things her teacher had said.
"Certainly not, my child. Nothing is too small to take to Him, if it be a burden or anxiety to us; but we must not forget to add to all our petitions 'Thy will be done,' remembering that his will is right—the very best that can be for us."
Annie tried to remember this; and when she went to her own little room soon afterwards, to ask God that she might get the place as Squire Wood's kitchen-maid, tried to say it from her heart; but somehow she did not find it so easy as she expected. She wanted to go there so much, that to leave the choice with God seemed next to impossible. Again and again, after repeating, "Thy will be done," came the words unbidden to her lips, "but oh! I must get this place!"
All day she was so anxious and restless as to be quite incapable of helping her mother with the needlework, and again and again did her thoughts recur to her prayer of the morning.
In the evening, as she was going on an errand, she met Sarah West, who ran to meet her with the news that she had just been to Squire Wood's, to make the final arrangements about going there as kitchen-maid.
She did not know that Annie was wishing for the place for herself; and she was so full of the story of all the grand doings in the servants'-hall, that she did not notice the tears steal into Annie's eyes as she listened.
Poor Annie! she felt greatly disappointed; and as she slowly walked homewards she thought of her text and her teacher's words. Her prayer of that morning was almost the first practical use she had ever tried to make of what she learned at Sunday school; and now, as it seemed to her, it had been in vain.
"Mother, Sarah's got the place," she said, sadly, as soon as she reached home. Her mother did not look disappointed.
"Never mind, Annie, we must hope."
"But, mother, I prayed that I might get it; and it seems so hard, now that father is out of work."
"Did you not pray 'Thy will be done,' Annie ?" asked her mother, gently.
"Yes, mother, I tried; but it seemed very hard then, and it seems harder still now."
"It is hard, my child, sometimes." And Mrs. Green's eyes filled with tears as she spoke; for although she could not but feel thankful that Annie was not going to the squire's, still the prospect of a hard winter, and her husband out of work, was anything but pleasant.
"I shall look for another place, mother," said Annie, as she dried her eyes; and the next morning she went out to inquire at the shops in the village, and several of the farmhouses round. But the busy season was over now, and nobody wanted a girl; and Annie returned home tired with her walk and very dispirited.
Again and again were the same inquiries made; but at last Annie heard of an old lady who wanted a little maid-ofall-work. She was not rich, and could not afford to give much wages—not quite half the amount Sarah West was receiving at the squire's; but Annie was glad to take it, although she grumbled to herself about it, and thought rather lightly of what the old lady said concerning home comforts, careful training, and religious privileges.
Her mother, however, was very thankful, that her daughter had obtained this situation, where she would be able to attend the house of God regularly, and where she would meet with so few temptations to lightness and frivolity; for Annie was rather pretty and a little vain of it, so that the servants' hall at Squire Wood's was anything but likely to improve her character. Annie's discontent at what she called her quiet, humdrum life was increased by her meeting Sarah West at church a few weeks afterwards. It was not often that Sarah was seen there now, for if they had no company in the drawing-room on Sunday the servants contrived to invite their friends; but it happened that no one was expected to-day, and moreover Sarah had a new bonnet she particularly wished to exhibit to her acquaintances.
It is to be feared that Annie thought of little else beyond Sarah's finery that afternoon; and she wished again and again that she had been able to get the envied place, and dress in the same style; but her envy was, if possible, increased by the news Sarah came to tell her as they were going home—Squire Wood's family were going to London for six months, and of course Sarah would go too.
"Isn't it delightful?" she said. "I can't think of anything else. I wonder how you manage to exist with that strict, poky Mrs. Mortimer. I couldn't, I'm sure.. When I get to London I'm going to the theatre with the footman; he has promised to take me and the under-housemaid. Don't you wish you could go too?"
There was little need to ask this question. Annie was ready to cry with vexation and disappointment, as she thought, "It might have been me going to London now, if mother had only let me go after the place in time." Her kind mistress' instruction, which Annie really did value, and her mother's words concerning the will of God being always right, always the best that could happen for us, were forgotten for a time, and Annie became discontented and unhappy.
Nothing was heard of Sarah West for some months. The family remained in London longer than had been expected, and Mrs. Green really hoped that by the time they returned Annie would have become wise enough not to envy Sarah West her gay place; but there was a little envy lurking in Annie's heart still, although she took care not to show it.
At last came the news that Squire Wood's family was coming back. Annie heard it from Sarah's mother, who seemed sadly flurried when she told it.
"You will be glad to see Sarah, Mrs. West," said Annie.
For answer the poor woman burst into tears. "I wish I'd never let her go out of my sight," she said. "Oh! I do wish she'd got a nice quiet place like yours, Annie, and then she would never have been tempted to go wrong."
"Why, what is the matter?" asked Annie.
"You won't talk about it if I tell you ?—though everybody '11 know she's left her place, and all about it, as soon as the family get back," and Mrs. West groaned aloud.
"Left her place?" uttered Annie.
"Yes, yes; my poor girl has been turned away without a character. London is a wicked place; and she wanted to do as the other servants did—dress fine and go out—and her wages wasn't enough for all—and she took a ring belonging to one of the young ladies, to pay some debt she owed. She didn't mean to keep it, she said; but that didn't soften the squire. He turned her out of doors without a minute's warning."
"Is she coming home?" asked Annie, when she had recovered somewhat from her astonishment.
"I don't know. One of the servants wrote to tell me about it, and ask if she had come home. I don't know where she is, or what has become of her. Oh, Annie! you ought to be thankful you have got such a comfortable, quiet place. Squire Wood's has been the ruin of my poor Sarah."
For a long time no news was heard of Sarah West. Her friends made every inquiry, but in vain, until at last a letter came from the matron of one of the London poor-houses, saying that a young girl lay there very ill of consumption, and greatly desired to see her mother before she died.
Poor heart-broken Mrs. West at once obeyed the summons, fully determined to bring poor Sarah home, that she might at least die among friends; but on reaching the workhouse she found that this would be impossible. She had not been received until the disease had fastened itself upon her; and it had since made such rapid progress that she had now but a few days to live.
"Oh mother, my life is all over, and I'm so young to die," she said, as her mother took her hand. "I know I'm dying. I have thrown my life away by my own folly and wickedness. The chaplain says that even now I may be saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. Lord be merciful to me a sinner!"
The next day, deeply penitent and with only a faint and feeble hope, she breathed her last.